Plains, Midwest face first snowstorm of season

Friday, December 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

CHICAGO — The first major snowstorm of the season forced a plane off a runway, canceled hundreds of flights and hobbled highways in the Plains and Midwest, and more sloppy weather rolled in today.

A Fed Ex cargo plane arriving Friday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport slipped into the mud off the only open runway, and crews were working to tow it away. There were no injuries, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Laura and Ron Whittingham said early Friday that their United flight to Las Vegas was leaving on time from O’Hare, one of numerous airports where most flights were canceled.

“I guess we’re just the lucky ones,” Ron Whittingham said. “We are going to Vegas, so that’s a good thing, right? We’re starting off lucky.”

About 2.4 million customers across central and southern Illinois and parts of Missouri were without power early Friday after ice snapped tree limbs and downed power lines.

In the Chicago area, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning until noon, predicting six to 12 inches of snow. Winds gusted to more than 30 mph as the storm arrived in full by the morning rush hour.

“It looks like it’s going to get messy,” said Tim Halbach, a meteorologist in the Chicago suburb of Romeoville. “There could be times where some areas see 2 inches of snow per hour.”

The same wintry system struck Thursday from Texas to Michigan. Hundreds of schools, colleges and universities and state offices across Oklahoma were closed as the last band of heavy snow moved out early Friday. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared a disaster emergency for 27 counties, freeing up resources to help them.

High winds hit the Dayton, Ohio, suburb of Vandalia shortly before dawn Friday, knocking down power lines and tearing siding and shingles off homes. Police Chief Doug Knight described the damage as minor and said there were no injuries.

In southeastern Wisconsin, forecasters warned that wind and rain could bring near-blizzard conditions.

Snowfall in parts of Oklahoma ranged from 2 inches to nearly a foot, while parts of Illinois prepared for 6 to 12 inches.

An Oklahoma man was killed Thursday when his vehicle skidded on an icy road and hit an oncoming tractor-trailer. Also Thursday, on Interstate 44 near Rolla, a motorist involved in an earlier accident was standing near his vehicle when a semitrailer jackknifed and slid into the car, killing him.

“It’s just too darn slick. It’s going to be a mess out there for a day or two,” said Taylor Hunt of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

At the Nevada Fuel Mart in southwest Missouri, Rose Dozier said most truck drivers heading south stopped early Thursday night. They reported near-zero visibility before the snow began to subside.

“The drivers are all professionals, and they’re used to it,” Dozier said. “They said a lot of cars are not.”

In the Texas Panhandle, roads were covered with ice and up to 7 inches of snow.

Clay Ender, who works for a heating service company, struggled to get around in the 3 inches of snow that fell overnight in Lubbock. A trip across the city that usually takes 20 minutes stretched to an hour, he said.

“There were so many cars spinning out of control. They couldn’t get any traction,” he said.

Jennifer Stark of the National Weather Service in Topeka, Kan., said the storm seemed especially impressive because it had been preceded by unseasonably mild weather. Temperatures approached, and in some places eclipsed, record highs earlier in the week.

The system roared through the Northwest and Rockies earlier in the week. Coming on the heels of near-record high temperatures, it rolled through Kansas on Wednesday, coating tree limbs and power lines with half an inch of ice. By Friday, the storm was moving northeast through Illinois on the way to Canada.

The eastern Missouri towns of Leadington and Park Hills put off plans for two holiday tree lightings and a joint Christmas parade, said Tammi Burns, executive director of their shared chamber of commerce. She said the communities will celebrate next Thursday.

“Keep your spirits up,” she said. “Be thankful it’s getting cold for Christmas.”

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